Friday, June 1, 2012

One year gone, Sydney, Blue Mountains, Tamworth and Byron Bay.

It comes as a bit of a shock when I realise that it was a year ago that I waved goodbye to home family and friends. At times it could have been the blinking of an eye, at others it seems like a different life. I have loved almost every of the moment trip so far and relish the coming year making my way home.

My Australian weeks are rushing by in a blur of social and mechanical frenzies. The feelings of home, overwhelming hospitality and generosity from all those I meet are pretty much the same here as in New Zealand. There is also another feeling emerging that the longer I am away from the developing world, the more I am yearning to go back to it. This is not because I want to live there, but for me at the moment at least, greater interest and fascination are found in cultures and societies least like my own.

That said I am enjoying my time in the 1st world immensely. Meeting lots of people I work with, competitors, friends of friends, members of the Royal Enfield Club of Australia, and do you remember I mentioned how many of the girls from my 20s disappeared off to this land into the arms of Australian men, well I have caught up with a number of them and had a lot of fun doing so.

A rather blurry picture of Stuart which  is quite fitting given the number of ales we had enjoyed as he took me around numerous bars in Fitzroy,  a fun part of Melbourne. We represent Stuart and he moved to Australia about 6 years ago and  it looks like he is set for the duration, very happily.
Another fine evening spent with Wai and her delightful family in Melbourne. Wai and I have been talking and working together for at least 10 years, and finally to meet has been a great reward of this trip.

My now fellow members of the Australian Royal Enfield Club,  I have been honoured with membership whilst here...most grateful and humbling....a grt gang of friends.  They were kind enough to host me for dinner and beer one evening whilst I was in Melbourne. It was openly joked that Batty had only one other Royal Enfield to keep her company out side the pub, the others were all "second' bikes that the membership rode, which tended to be Japanese...
It looks like we were in a betting shop, in fact it was  like many bars in Australia, where gambling seems to be deeply rooted in society.
I left for Sydney planning to take about 3 days, however 2 things happened to handicap this plan. Firstly my primary chain cover bolt stripped it's thread about 200 miles from Melbourne, and secondly a new attempt to use vegetable oil and a 10% petrol mix unfortunately failed to work.
The results of my primary chain case coming undone
 As luck would have it, and indeed as has been the case in so many of my ridiculous escapades trying to use vegetable oil,  I managed to break down very close to a helping hand.  In this case it was Andy, who had heard me coming to a stop outside a local hotel in the tiny village of Cowwarr, seeking a bed. In Australia as a hangover from the prohibition years, a hotel does not mean it necessarily has any rooms and is often, as in this case, just a bar. Andy had just come back from work and on seeing my problem, he kindly said to come over to his workshop where he had various British bikes, and he would re-tap the thread. In fact it meant going into a local town to get the right thread, but once done Andy set to and made a fine job of it. 
Earlier in the day, before the bolt had stripped, I knew all was not well with the petrol/veg oil mix and the engine was behaving in the fashion I had learnt to fear before engine failure. So after all Andy's kind kind work, the engine did not start, and I was stranded at 7pm. Andy said "Well there is the more for dinner Love" he called to his wife. So along with their 4 sons, aged from about 12 to 18, Mr and Mrs Andy we had a great evening discussing local life, the aeroplanes Andy works on for fun, the fires that killed so many a few years prior (Andy is a volunteer firefighter locally), and answers to my omni present question on who and how their family came to Oz in the first place. Always a fascinatingly and different story every time, but always a story of bravery and ambition or desperation and conviction. 
Andy works for the local council collecting bins all around the beautiful district and left at 5 in the morning. I struggled to get at the bike by 7, but with the help of Dan, the eldest, got Batty back on the road by mid day....well that would have been the case had I not over tightened the bolt Andy had so laboriously fixed the night before, breaking the housing it was in. My heart just flopped initially, but as luck would have it I managed to get Batty to Brian in Heyfield 10 miles down the road and he and his brother re tapped it and got the cover better than new. All done with a generous refusal of payment, and a great 'cheering off' as I left.

Andy and Brian discussing Batty's needs. I was saying to Brian how knocked out I had been by everyone's kindness when he said "Everyone is nice...until it comes to money" well I guess I know what he means, and money does change people, but I loved the simplicity of the truism.
Andy tapping away.
The next day was my longest ride yet and managed to clock up 350 miles. I had a very important date and that was to join Kirstie and her family for her birthday dinner.  So my incentive was strong. 10 happy hours in the saddle, doing a lot of Spanish lessons (I want to at least be able to ask for a beer when I get to Mexico)

Wal, Charlie, Georgie and Kirstie at a cottage they have in the southern alps an hour south of Sydney, they are doing it up as an investment.  I went on to stay with them 10 days later near Tamworth, their more permanent home.
Mike (my initial and regular contact in Oz fro the RE Club) John and Mark. My welcoming committee of some of the Sydney Royal Enfielders for a ride along the coast in to Sydney.
I stayed with Mike and Gilda for a couple of nights and they were hugely kind and welcoming as I grappled with the wonders of Sydney.
Mike off to work on his Jubilee Bonnie...rather fitting given the celebrations in the Commonwealth

Bondi Beach...terrible picture, but wanted to log the place on the blog 
Gilda spend nearly a day showing me the delights of her Sydney,  from where she grew up, to one of the most famous views/ icons in the world (second only to Mickey Mouse in global recognision apparently)
Again not an inspiring picture, but it is of the NSW Art Gallery, which I would recommend  every time for a visit...matches the best anywhere.

Walking down towards the Opera house

I went up one of the pillars in the bridge that holds a Museum.  An amazing structure to  get up close to.
One of many provocative and challenging pieces in the Contemporary Art Museum
I would recommend the hour long tour of the Opera House to anyone....I am now such a fan, and cannot think of another building in the world that matches the quite astonishingly individual and exquisite statement of a place and nation.
Here is John mending Batty's stands. Both her side and centre ones were hopeless and now with a good deal of  weld, she can stand up for herself with ease and strength. Mike, Roger, Mark and I had all ridden out to John's house on a Sunday morning. Where John and Viv had me to stay in their beautiful house in the foot hills of the Blue Mountains. John is the only person I have knowingly met who has won the lottery. It was not a hugest of wins, but amounted to a new house apparently. However it was 30 years ago and his then wife left him taking the money with was the best thing that ever happened to him he insisted, and by the look of his very happy circumstance I can quite see why he says that.
John showed me an old trick taught to him by a German engineer 40 years ago of taking the seals off the front wheel bearing we were replacing and spreading in much more grease, then sealing them up again...twice the life and more he assured me. 
Mike and John's project 1920s Royal Enfield

3 Sisters at Katoomba

This was the view from the guests cottage I was honoured enough to stay in whilst  visiting Annabel and her parents.
They made me very at home and spoilt me rotten. Annabel lives in London, but along with her family, has oscillated between Sydney, Devon and London for many years, so I was very luck to have coincided with her.

Annabel and Jono. Because it was innocent I can recount that the last time I saw Jono was having a party (pillow fight really) with loads of friends in a huge bed in a fine National Trust house, that was reputedly slept in by His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie. It was at a farewell party before she left the UK for Oz 20 years ago....the 3 of us had a lunch as if it was the next day....lovely lovely people. I recounted to her the exodus of girls to Oz 20 years ago and us English blokes' concerns, and she pointedly said it was pretty annoying at the time for the Ozzie girls when all these English girls came over and married their men...always cause and effect.

This is a failed attempt to capture the remoteness, beauty and scale of Gananny, the property that Fiona and Reg tend. Reg is 4th generation on the farm and to want to live anywhere else is quite understandably ridiculous.
Fiona and Reg, just before I left. Banjo the dog insisted on blessing Batty with his territorial  mark.
I am hopeless at staying longer than I said I would, but at Gananny, not only did I not want to leave but I could not, as I got trapped by huge down pours that made the dirt roads near impassable on Batty's road tyres.

I left in the end to go on to stay with Kirstie and Wal again near Tamworth and as luck would have it some neighbours were having a bit of an event, which included an exhibition by a stunt horseman and his steed called BJ.... apparently it was not short for 'Blow Job' I was corrected, but was a famous horse star  in the film "Australia".

My last girl pal from Dorset and Devon days that I  caught up with in what was a fortnight of happy memories, and being very well looked after.
Bekah and Roland live very near Byron Bay, which meant very little to me initially, but as Roland kindly spent a day showing me all the sights of this beautiful part, I soon understood why it has become a much desired area. It has much of the beauty of Dorset but with some useful degrees and surf that most can only dream about...apparently

My Plan now is to head north to Cairns in about a weeks time. I have to drop back to Sydney for a work thingy next week, but that will only be for a day, and I will fly it. I am hoping to get some diving on the Great Barrier Reef and a bit of sun...

Re matters engine and veg oil etc. I had a great meet up with David in Sydney, who has been advising on all things to do with the fuel. David is a glamour photographer when he is not powering everything by veg oil, and has loads of experience and stories on both matters. He has helped uncover the secrets of my woes that has stopped me using veg oil. The new engines have been slightly re designed to make them comply with diesel emission regulations. This involves lowering the combustion temperatures, which is done by one or all of 3 things, lowering the compression, lowering the injector pressure and retarding the timing. Any of these things are obviously fine with diesel, but when trying to combust veg oil's greater viscous properties and slightly different burning properties, they fail and the fuel only partially burns. The unburnt residue is swept into the rings etc and quickly causing the compression to disappear. 

I have written to Yanmar for their help, and will see what the meantime it is biodiesel if I can get it, or diesel with the odd litre of veg oil thrown into keep some pretence at vegibiking.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Auckland farewell, Press, photo shoot, Australia, service and repairs

My last few days in Auckland both typified much of the generosity and fun that I had in the whole of New Zealand. This time the blame falls wholly on the shoulders of Hadleigh. We had met 10 months ago in Srinagar in Kashmir, where we were staying in the same guesthouse. In fact the meeting lasted about a minute, but when I came back to my bike a few hours later I found a note from Hadleigh saying if my world tour included New Zealand, to get in touch. We exchange one or 2 e-mails at that stage but good to his word as soon as I e-mailed when I arrived, his door was thrown open.
Not only did he provide a bed, we had a couple of nights out in Auckland and he and his housemates proved very good company so that I left New Zealand very much on a high.

Aha (from Greenland), Teresa, and Hadleigh on his deck.
Piha beach...a moody day

We got caught in a squall, but smiles never faltered
There was also a work element, by chance. As it turns out Hadleigh is a top-notch creative director and had lots of useful and interesting insights into the creative world in Australia and New Zealand as well as India, where he had spent a couple of years and has strong connections with.

Chris Power is the nephew of Trevor, and a motorcycle journalist. We met at the Auckland Museum for a photo shoot and interview. I nervously await how that comes out, depending on which you will see a copy on these pages!

It was Anzac day and fitting somehow to be on what they call consecrated land at a national place on a bike from Britain
It was great to find this quote in NZ, having been so moved by it in the Dardenelles.

I also had a very enjoyable lunch with Nadia Flower, who we represent. It was very good to meet her at long last and get her angle on the creative world both locally and internationally.

Like New Zealand, Australia has had a long history in my imagination, and to get here at last filled me with excitement. Now it's not that I thought anything but the best of any of the Australian men I've met, but there was a point in my mid-20s when it seemed that every girl in my community was having great love affairs with Australians, marrying them and then moving over here. So here I am about to discover what the magic is.

I was met at Melbourne airport by Mark, it was almost midnight on a Friday night which was well beyond the call of duty, but very welcome. He and his lovely wife Lucy and kids now live here, but I knew Mark when we were children in Devon.... his Dad was my godfather.

Nothing more could have been done to greater my welcome, and my introduction to domestic life Williamstown style was started with whiskey and over the next few days it was a combination of sightseeing, ball games, bicycle rides but invariably that whiskey bottle seemed to pries itself open at the day's end.
Docked in Williamstown, the Steve Urwin of Sea Shepherd Org haunts the Japanese whaling fleet and has succeeded in making it an almost non profitable business for the whalers
A replica of the Enterprise that founded Melbourne in 1835. Johnny and Molly snapped

Johnny, Harvey, birthday girl Marge (neighbour / surrogate granny) and Molly
A few months ago I received an e-mail from a chap called Mike, based in Australia and stating that he and his friends had been following the blog from early in the trip and as members of the Australian Royal Enfield Club, would like to meet. That was a lovely e-mail to receive and we had intermittently corresponded since then. I had asked if he could recommend a place to get Batty serviced, and he introduced me to Guy.

Guy and Jude live about an hour and a half from Melbourne and they welcomed this stranger into their house, and Batty into Guy's workshop. I was there for 4 days and it so happened that these 4 days were ones of rain, I don't mean light rain, this was the very definition of non-riding weather. So it was a perfect bike servicing window. Spare parts were stolen from some of Guy's long suffering bikes, Norman from the RE Club came over for a whole day and helped me with some thread worn screws, various weldings and Batty was restored to far better health. My health was improved by non stop plates full of deliciousness,  a glass that never emptied and endless good company.

The message I found inside the front door
Guy busying away on his Carberry double barrel dream machine. This is one of a production of 11 bikes that he and others created...completely beautiful.
Jude waiting for he guest to join her and Guy on a ride.

Norm giving a day to my cause...
I returned to Melbourne for a big night out with Mark, Lucy and their friend Marnie. The night life is very busy and the first 3 'happening' restaurants had this no booking policy and were rammed for 3 hours, we ended up in a great place called Cookie. The girls got chat up furiously by the waiters, and ordered exactly what these young fellas recommended....I think Mark and I felt like amused passengers on that particular aspect of the evening. It was delicious though and happy passengers we were.

For those following my fuel challenges, I have a new Guru called David in Sydney. I am looking forward to meeting him, but in the meantime I am using a 10% mix of petrol in with the veg oil. I at last understand from him that petrol will ignite a little earlier than diesel in the cycle, enabling much more combustion of the veg oil than before. At the time of writing, I have done 100 miles like this, and if I get to Sydney my confidence in the new approach will be all the more. I know David has a few more plans for Batty, but that will be for a later post.
Tim and Mark who arrived at the meeting place a little before Batty. Mark had been talking about this great biking road, and then Guy and Jude as to ride it was a joy. Tim joined us and after the obligatory pie, the 10 - 15 minute ride was right up there with the best of them.
A famed meeting point for those who ride the Black Spur near Healesville, Vic

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Wellington to head for heights.

I had forgotten how much warmer the North Island feels, this must be in part a psychological phenomenon, but certainly by the time one is up around Auckland one has definitely shed a few layers. It feels like one is almost going to a new country as one gets on the ferry between the 2 islands and landing at Wellington had a light sense of homecoming for me.
As has been a regular feature of my extraordinary time in New Zealand, I have been given  names of friends of friends and family from all over the country, and it meant meeting so many generous, but above all the fun people. One of the greatest attractions of New Zealand has been 'people beauty' as much as nature's beauty.
 This is the famous John Britten motorcycle at the Te Papa  Museum in Wellington. Completely hand built but for the tyres by a slightly maverick but brilliant engineer. This bike was the fastest in the world and one man created a machine that bested  the might of the multibillion dollar motorcycle industry.

  Clare wrote to Anne and myself, commanding that we meet. It appears that we both are as obedient as each other and a flurry of e-mails resulted in finding myself at this extraordinary house designed by Andrew Lister, who is noted for his landmark building in Auckland, the Sky City Tower, (a sorry tale to come).

 These snaps cannot really do it justice, but hints at the situation.  It has to be noted that the film director, James Cameron, has just acquired the property next door and he, if anyone, knows where dreams combine with reality.
 The Gascoigne family and friends. My one night here was criminally short, but the memories will last the full term

 Peter saddled me on a quad bike and we rode off in tandem for a few hours up the coast on track, beach and pasture. A magical morning's entertainment.
  A family I had heard much about the nearly 30 years was that of Rena's. An early girlfriend who had been recruited by my mother to help keep house for the teams of Kiwi and Australian chaps that my brother employed to build farm fences in Devon. A short relationship turned into a lifelong friendship and it was fantastic to meet her smashing Mum and sister in Fielding. Rena has just now moved to New York and I am planning to skip over there anyway, to meet my American colleagues'  in July,  so to see her as well will be a real bonus.
H, Katrina and Glenda.

 Auntie Barb of Napier. Sarah, who has managed our accounts in the office for nearly 2 decades guaranteed a warm welcome, a comfortable bed and a cork popping dinner table at her aunt's home. No money back required. She and Victor are hilarious for too short a one night stay.

 Trevors' bees. Rather embarrassingly I had taken a small offering of a honeycomb of honey for having me to stay, only to be dressed up in bee paraphernalia and shown the inner workings of his hive. It produces gallons and gallons of honey.

 I was very glad to get a picture at last of Trevor and Rachelle. I'm afraid that I could not resist their kind offer of hospitality yet again as I went through Hamilton on my way north. There was a tale or 2 to be told since staying there 5 weeks earlier. The truck in the background is the competition truck for their national Enduro championship holding son, Carl.

  Over the course of the veggie oil saga that has, I'm afraid, dominated parts of this blog, I have corresponded with a number of sustainable fuel enthusiasts, many from the in Australia. Not only does Peter, pictured, run his vehicles using mostly contemporary fuel, he also has a barn/garage that is the envy and intrigue of any mechanically minded person. The highlight has to be his Triumph Bonneville drag bike that he has built and won many championships with.

 At the time of this photograph I was very much of a mind that it was either diesel or bio diesel that I would carry on the trip with. However there is a school of thought evolving that there are ways to restore the use of vegetable oil. I won't go into it here, but will experiment in Australia next week before discussing further. The worst that can happen is that I have to spend another day rebuilding the piston etc, the best that can happen is that the trip gets back on its original track.

 views from the near Cathedral Cove,  Coromandel Peninsula on the North Island
In perhaps what was one of the more extraordinary happenings on this trip, I was asked by these fellows if I had a toolkit, "of course yes, but what was it?",  "Our father's ashes" came the reply, "he was born here and we are scattering his ashes  but we forgot the spanner to undo the box". It turned into a farce as none of the  numerous tools on Batty fitted either, so the Ian Frances Lowe's (1928-2012) return to nature had to wait another day.  Part of me was relieved, as the wind was blowing inshore and I am sure to end up in a car park was not quite what Ian Lowe had in mind for eternity.

Ainsley, Rob, Debbie, Carly and Monica on the motorbike.
I spent 2 nights with the delightful Harris family in Whitianga  on the Coromandel Peninsula. Rob and Debbie are old friends of Rosie and Zed's. They said I would be welcome there and true enough a home from home.
I would have to say New Zealand has the best motorcycling in the world for all-round, non-stop extraordinary roads in stunning countryside, however if time was limited and I had to vote for one place that is both accessible and stunning, it would have to be the Coromandel Peninsula. You know that you have been having fun when all the rubber on the tyres have been used and the foot pegs have had sparks flying off them as steep corners, made all the tighter with perfect cambers, keep you busy for hour after hour.

 Rubin, Olive, Peter and Alice. They sailed on a yacht to New Zealand, having sold up in London, this intrepid family now live in a North land idyll, selling their own Zippy ice creams and have a great knack of entertaining visiting Englishman.  Even to the extent of duetting him on the ukelele.

Here is a lovely picture of Lily. Lily is the daughter of dear friends in Somerset, and she is on a gap year sort of trip. The plan was to meet in Auckland and trying to be clever, I thought nothing could be better than lunch at the revolving top of the Sky City Tower that you see just to the right of her head. Not only would it offer a fantastic panorama of the city, the menu looked good and it would have nicely connected with the Gascoigne's house near Wellington.

We met as planned and I couldn't help telling Lily where we were going as we approach the tower. Her excitement at the idea was clear to see and appeared to match my own. However as we went to the lift that hurls you up hundreds of metres, I completely lost my nerve much to Lily's bewilderment and my humbling horror. I was completely taken by surprise by this sudden terror, I had booked it the day before without a second thought, but I just froze. Looking back it was a stupid thing to have done, I had forgotten that heights can disabled me, and I had got swept away by the splendour of the idea. At least Lily went up and had a good look around before we found a comparatively dull waterside restaurant for lunch. Ironically had I had half bottle of wine before going to the tower, I am sure I would have made it. What a plonker.
The day was rescued for me at least, by Lily's good company as we boated around Auckland's harbour.